According to an early May study by the World Economic Forum, between now and 2027, around 83 million jobs could disappear. Even if at least 69 million could be born. Goldman Sachs in March was even more pessimistic: 300 million jobs will be at risk between now and 2030. The big culprit is artificial intelligence. But are we sure that this is the right way to ask the question? In our opinion not. Like any technological leap, we will see a transformation of our lives. And therefore of our work. Many trades will disappear, others will emerge. How should we deal with a change that promises to be epochal? If we want to start from our intelligence, rather than from artificial intelligence, the starting point can only be education.
The school of the future
What should the school of the future teach? Can the Italian school system, revolutionized in the 1960s, still adequately prepare us for the times ahead? Is compulsory schooling really enough to develop the right skills that can be used on the labor market? Will the education that the new generations receive be able to compete with the automated work of artificial intelligence? These are the big questions. In a word, it will count the quality of education.
On May 24th, the European Commission published its six-monthly report on economic performance. Italy still shows a level of youth unemployment at 24%, among the highest in Europe; furthermore, there is a job offer that is not matched by demand, a clear sign that there are no adequate skills on the market, especially in technical subjects. In the last twenty years, due to the financial crisis and the increase in youth unemployment, a lot of faith in the importance of education and, above all, in university degrees has been lost at a national level. Italy ranks penultimate in the EU for the number of graduates.
Rethinking the university
The path of reform of the university study cycle has not yielded satisfactory results. A cultural operation is necessary, starting from the narrative of the universities as a source of opportunities and recovering the concept of excellence, implementing autonomy and decentralization. Exactly the opposite of the equalization between universities, implemented in the eighties and nineties. We should take as a reference the concept of autonomy of the American Ivy Leagues, capable of catalysing each of the excellences so that an ecosystem is created around them. Several European countries have adopted the model of the autonomy of university centers of excellence. Autonomy does not mean giving up the European model of the university at affordable costs and not only accessible by litigation. To aspire to excellence, training in cutting-edge technologies increasingly needs to take advantage of economies of scale and large investments in education.
The European Commission has already invested in the period 2021-2022 around 170 million euros on advanced skills under the Digital Europe program. The idea to lower costs and increase quality is to develop university education based on an offer of joint masters between several European universities. The technology sectors are key ones such as AI, data, chip design, quantum physics or cybersecurity. The Polytechnic of Milan, the University of Pisa and the University of Bologna are some of the realities that are already part of the project.
The hunger for specialists is not limited to university graduates. The other matter to consider the so-called vocational education and training (Vet), or vocational education and training, embodied by graduate schools. This type of training was the engine of growth in Germany which, through a collaboration axis between schools and companies, trained workers and technicians specialized in sectors such as mechanics or mechatronics, which became the backbone of its economy. In Germany, 88.4% of trained professionals between the ages of 20 and 34 find work. In Italy, this type of education is still rather neglected despite the European resources of the Pnrr: in our country, those who follow short-term Vet training courses are only 0.8%, against a European average of 9.0%. And, incidentally, the enormous gap between the salary of a manager and that of a newly graduated or non-graduated technician also contributes to the lack of interest. According to the OECD, Italian graduates aged between 25 and 34 receive wages that are as much as 15% lower than the European average.
The case of Milan and digital skills
Milan an example of the importance of the context. The city is increasingly expensive, with a cost of living increased by 11.7% in 2022 compared to 2021, and it is difficult for a new hire to bear the costs. Which also affects the trend of talents to look beyond national borders: 31,000 young people left our country in 2021, of which 14,000 with a degree. The same also applies to foreigners who decide to study in Italy and then have to leave the country anyway to pursue more attractive job offers. At the same time, more than half (55%) of Italian companies have difficulty finding staff for jobs that require advanced digital skills.In the sector of technical subjects, the demand for specialists continues to increase, roles which seem to attract not enough young people. This phenomenon is not limited only to digital, but extends to all production sectors, with particular reference to those trades that require skills related to the green and digital transition. For this reason, the issue of skills is one of the pillars of the green and digital transition.
Europe and the elderly population
Europe is an elderly people and Italy is the oldest nation, with an average age of 48. The fact that most people have not grown up with technology leads to a certain degree of skepticism and resistance. If there's one thing Covid-19 has taught us, it's that digital is actually ageless. 80-90% of the population is now able to use their smartphone – but this is not what we mean when we talk about digital education, but rather the critical sense and respect in using the Internet and, in particular, social media. It is a question of understanding why, for example, an algorithm amplifies fake news or of grasping the difference between a text generated by ChatGPT - in which a collation of the history of the data found is made - and a text written by a creative. Today we have at our disposal a wide range of tools and technologies capable of drafting an impeccable text from the point of view of form. A language model like ChatGPT can well support the drafting of a research paper, but only those who possess a certain level of expertise on that specific topic can use it in the best way — being able to identify inaccuracies or to guide the chatbot so that it can provide the accurate and necessary information.
The challenge of machines to our creativity
Machines are challenging us and it is up to us to respond: to understand, manage and know fundamentals. We must aim to have digitally educated generations regardless of age. Just as after the Second World War, we find ourselves having to face another type of illiteracy, namely the inability to consciously exploit technology, without at the expense of creativity. Because the biggest difference lies precisely in creativity: the machine can make predictions based on present and past data, but we humans can imagine in an unpredictable way, a quality that can never be replaced. The history of music teaches us that artists have always exploited the technological innovations of instruments for the benefit of creativity. If Mozart were alive, he would certainly use artificial intelligence; we can only imagine what he would be able to accomplish by combining his immense brilliance with the resources available today.Human intelligence and artificial intelligence are therefore not interchangeable; they do not cancel each other out but, rather, they complete each other and it is only from their collaboration that the future can be imagined, planned and realized in the best possible way.
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The Economy Opinions and the Economy 6 pm
May 29, 2023
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